French filmmakers have for many years demonstrated a panache for distinctive comedies, particularly those that parody class structure, prejudice, bigotry and long held social norms. By holding these up to ridicule and deeper analysis, the audience takes away a fresh perspective that is enlightening, inspiring and entertaining. The Intouchables follows this fine tradition.
This comedy is all the more remarkable because it is based upon a true story. The film explores the seemingly improbable relationship between a wealthy paraplegic played by Francois Cluzet in the role of Phillipe and his misfit carer played by Omar Sy in the role of Driss. Prior to becoming carer to Phillipe, Driss was an unemployed African migrant more at ease on the mean streets of Paris. The luxurious trappings of Phillipe’s home, studded with the finest antiques and artwork is the backdrop for much of the film.
The contrasts in lifestyles, education and backgrounds provides the grist for the comedy. Phillipe is the urbane, educated, sophisticated and well connected Parisian; a person accustomed to the good life and the fruits of wealth. By stark contrast, Driss has no formal education other than that gained through surviving by his wits amid suburban squalor. His life has been stained by poverty, violence and a growing sense of hopelessness.
The great charm of this most unusual film is the inner character revelations that emerge. Common sense or rational thinking would never suggest that Driss was the appropriate choice to assist a deeply unhappy paraplegic but at very turn, surprises await. Phillipe was once a thrill seeker who sought satisfaction through extreme sports, one of these being paragliding which became his undoing with an accident resulting in paraplegia. Despite this setback, Phillipe’s spirit to realise life’s potential remains undimmed and unbeknown to others he seeks a kindred spirit which he finds in the most unlikely guise of Driss.
The notion of ‘pity’ is unknown to Driss. His solution as carer is to expose Phillipe to life as he knew it as an able-bodied man through music, exhilarating car rides and hilarious derision of the art forms (opera, music, painting) that Phillipe holds dear. Nothing is sacred and all is fair game to Driss. From an employer-employee relationship Phillipe and Driss unwittingly become mutually reliant and ultimately firm friends. Along this engaging journey, they unleash one another’s potential, spirit and humanity, learning more about each other and themselves and how they can best embrace the challenges of life.
Actors aside, The Intouchables is one of those rare films where you sense a genuine bond between the lead performers that goes beyond the director’s requirement. I have rarely seen two actors enjoying themselves more and as such they capture the essence and the spirit of the real life friendship between Phillip and Driss that continues to present day.
Running time for The Intouchables is108 minutes. The film is now available on DVD.